The Tea House


The tea house of Nitobe Garden, Ichibō-an (Hut of the Sweeping View), is a classical example of a structure designed for the practice of the Japanese discipline called chadō (Way of Tea). The tea house is equipped with all the elements needed for the conducting of a complete tea gathering: a waiting room (machiai), outer garden (soto roji), waiting bench (koshikake machiai), middle gate (chūmon), inner garden (uchi roji), main tearoom (hon seki) and preparation room (mizuya). These various parts of the tea house and its garden are laid out in accordance with the ways that host and guest move about and interact at a tea gathering. This relationship between tea house and tea participant, based on function and the formal movement dictated by the tea ceremony, is what distinguishes the tea house (chashitsu) from a mere tea drinking pavilion.

The Waiting Room

The waiting room of the tea house complex is a six-mat room with an open alcove (tokonoma) defined by a small sleeve wall which drops twelve inches from the ceiling and stretches from one wall to the other. The floor of the alcove is wood and it is flush with the tatami mats of the room. To the right of the scroll-hanging area is a low cabinet (jibukuro-dana), which helps break up the space and add design interest. These features contrast nicely with the alcove of the main room.

The Outer Garden

Once the guests have assembled in the waiting room and have been served a small cup of hot water, they step into the outer garden. A tea house garden is a passageway, a one way route with only one purpose: to allow people to move from the waiting room to the waiting bench, and onto the tearoom and back again. The guests first move along the stepping stones to the waiting bench (koshikake machiai) where they wait for the appearance of the host from the main tearoom. The planting of tea house gardens is plain and unassuming. Flowering plants are usually avoided to prevent conflict with the flowers displayed in the alcove of the tearoom. Normally there are no open views to draw the eye away from the immediate surroundings and the guests take their time walking one by one along the stepping stone path on their way to the waiting bench.

The Waiting Bench

The waiting bench is used twice by the guests during the tea gathering. After entering the outer garden from the waiting room, the guests make their way to the waiting bench and sit there until they hear the host emerge from the tea room. The bench is positioned so that the guests cannot see the host. Rather it is by the sound of the host leaving the tearoom and putting water into the stone basin that they know it is time to greet the host.

The Middle Gate

This small gate marks the division between outer garden and inner garden. By passing through this gate the guests enter the inner world of the tearoom. The small door of Ichibō-an’s middle gate is laced bamboo (shiorido) and is unlatched just before the guests enter and latched by the last guest to enter.

The Inner Garden

Once the guests have entered the inner garden they proceed one by one to the stone basin (tsukubai) where they rinse their hands and mouths. The conventional arrangement of stones that make up the tsukubai include the basin (chozubachi), the front stone (mae ishi) on which the guests stand, the hot water stone (yuoke ishi) that supports a bucket of hot water in the coldest weather and the hand-held candle stone (teshoku ishi) where a candle is placed during an evening tea gathering. Each guest continues in turn to the tearoom entrance, which in this case is the nijiri-guchi, or crawling-in entrance, peculiar to the world of tea. Because of the small size of the doorway, the guests can only enter by pulling themselves through head first after crouching on the stone below the entrance. This unconventional way of entering the room heightens the guests’ feeling that they have entered a place which is not of the every day world. The lack of wooden veranda between garden and room also distinguishes the tearoom from normal architectural arrangements.

The Tea Room

The tearoom allows four and a half mats, an ideal size for a gathering consisting of host and three guests. It is here that the host and guests first exchange verbal greetings, a meal is served and the fire built. This takes roughly two hours and is followed by a break during which the guests return to the waiting bench. The host then sounds a gong and the guests enter the tearoom for thick tea, the repairing of the fire and finally the light frothy form of tea called usucha, literally “thin tea”. Another two hours have elapsed by the end of the tea gathering.

The alcove features a main post (toko-bashira) of Japanese red pine with bark intact. In contrast is the cryptomeria frame support (toko-gamachi), which is planed across the top but left natural along the front. The ceiling is in the kakekomi split level style – part of the ceiling is flat and the other is slanted in the “underside of the roof” manner. This type of variation is fitting in a room of less than six mats. The use of wood and bamboo is also greater in smaller rooms, reflecting the so-called “grass hut” style of tea developed by Sen Rikyu and other tea masters of 15th and 16th century Japan. In addition to the crawling in entrance, there are two full-sized shoji doors on the right side of the alcove. This is technically called a kinin-guchi, or nobleman’s entrance – it would be appropriate to bring an actual noble person into the room through this doorway, but it is effectively a design feature that allows a greater amount of light to enter.